A typical day when I was a kid was to get up and have my cereal in a metal bowl with paint that was chipping off of it. Drink coffee off of an asbestos hot plate and then go upstairs to the attic, which had lead-based paint on the windowsills and play with my toxic toys. A couple of times I got one of those old thermometers to play with that was filled with mercury and once we discovered several cans of silver powdery stuff in the basement that we filled up balloons with and threw at each other. To this day I have no idea what it was. As a matter of fact, we engaged in all kinds of chemical warfare when our parents weren’t looking. Playing soldier and having balloon fights was very popular for a time and we would rummage through the kitchen closet and get cleaners, furniture polish, and anything else that smelled noxious and fill the balloons up with the stuff.
When we weren’t hitting each other with toxic balloons we would douse the toy soldiers with lighter fluid and set them on fire. Afterwards we might sneak into one of the several abandoned buildings in the neighborhood and explore. I remember falling halfway through the floor a couple of times. Other pleasurable activities included riding our bikes through the housing projects and getting attacked with baseball bats and sneaking smokes in the junkyard behind some old trucks. And some of the kids huffed glue out of paper bags after school.
How we survived all of it, I have no idea. I guess it’s like the old Native American Indian saying: “Whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.” So I guess it’s with just a little trepidation that I read about all of the hazards that are in toys today. Don’t get me wrong; we need to have stronger consumer safety laws, that’s for sure. Back then we weren’t aware of all of the dangers like we are now. Just look at what’s happened in China with not only the toys but also the contaminated milk. But at least over there the people who are in charge are held responsible unlike here where large corporations can literally get way with murder and only pay a fine.
According to a U.S. PIRG report, (www.uspirg.org) the recall of 45 million toys and other children’s products in 2007 and continued recalls in 2008 has reminded the American public that no government agency tests children’s toys before they are placed on the shelves.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is a very small agency that is charged with a very big job, a job that is frankly too big for it to do. Congress has finally responded when in August of 2008 it passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act to bolster the agency. It was the first improvement since the agency’s inception in the days of Nixon.
While the new laws strengthen the CPSC and contain tough new protections against toxic chemicals like lead and phthalates, these laws have yet to take effect. That’s why parents and consumers who venture into the malls and toy stores this Christmas should be aware that many of the toys on the shelves may pose hidden hazards.